If there are many, they must be as many as they are and neither more nor less than that. But if they are as many as they are, they would be limited. If there are many, things that are are unlimited. For there are always others between the things that are, and again others between those, and so the things that are are unlimited.
-attributed to Zeno of Elea by Simplicius in On Aristotle’s Physics 140.29
Funny things happen to space and time when walking all day in the woods. The modern delusion, fostered by vehicular transport and synchronized schedules, that all hours and days are equal is easily done away with. That the particulars of our experience create experience itself, rather than daily routine being poured into minutes like water into ice cube trays, never seems plainer than 5/6ths of the way through an all-day walk. One of the most convincing but least frequently advanced arguments against mountain biking is that the pace of human thought and ambulation are uniquely matched.
I’ve become fascinated with doing routes in off conditions, ever since several years ago that it was possible. The hikes hadn’t been possible or impossible prior, they just didn’t exist before my mind caught up with their design. I’ve praised these virtues before, and the challenge this year was to bring other people along.
But before that Friday came around with a rare moment of sun, and M dropped me off in the middle of the evening far up in the North Fork. A conventional melt-off means the skeeters are on their usual schedule, and I was racing to get everything in the pack and me moving.
The lower half of Kintla Creek between the two lakes is stuffed with wood. The upper part (shown) might prove to be an excellent packraft stream for better boaters (or for me with less water).
Three calender days and a practical eternity later we were walking along Bowman, the next major lake to the south, pondering the last simple miles of an 11 hour day. I’ve never yet hiked in to Glacier via Bowman, and thus the 7 miles from the backcountry campground to the trailhead have always been a test of patience. The first half is never more than 50 meters from the lakeshore, and progress is easily monitored by glancing left as Rainbow Peak goes slowly by. The second half is further back in the greenery, the ridge across the lake is only occasionally glimpsed, its descent less distinct, and the mental games of being close but not close enough always run rife. I was distracting myself, daydreaming about climbing, the upcoming Wilderness Classic, and books. The numerous creek crossings, overflowing with energy, were nonetheless never quite cold enough to really do well when I stopped to soak my swollen feet. In the final two miles the absurdity of the whole weekend finally hit me; why go through the contortions of planning and car shuttles, the struggle of hiking through rain and snow and hail, only to rush mentally and physically back to the world just left behind? Last year this hike took me 8 or so hours. This year it took three more. When I reach a higher plane of wilderness enlightenment, and better embrace Zeno’s commentary on the mutable fallibility of human perception, longer will always seem better. And all miles will be the same.
Larch forest between Kishenehn and Starvation Creeks.
We got plenty of practice towards enlightenment Sunday and Monday, but Friday night was starry and clear at the head of Kintla. I was gathering fuel for the bushbuddy around 930pm when I noticed fish were rising. I hastily rigged my Amago and caught the first cutt of the year on the first cast. I went to sleep with my head out the end of my tarp, counting consetellations as they emerged.
The hiking the next day was outstanding, reinforcing Kishenehn’s reputation as the park’s best secret. The ideal trip would be in late September: in Kintla, over Starvation ridge, enjoy the larches, fish Kishenehn Creek, camp north of the cabin, enjoy the aspens, and packraft from the border back to Kintla Creek.
Megan crossing that little creek a mile north of Packer’s Roost.
The water all weekend was in a burly mood. Kishenehn Creek lived up to the promise of it’s moderate gradient and provided fast and fun boating. Unlike almost all the North Fork creeks, it hasn’t burned recently and is thus not full of terrifying log jams. It still has some, and a good rule is that whenever the drainage dives into the spruce be on the lookout.
Floating the North Fork at high water (~13000 cfs down at the confluence, probably around half that up high) was quite the adventure as well. The section from Kishenehn to Kintla has a bit higher gradient than that from Kintla to Polebridge, and as a result was going almost 10 mph. Thankfully the upstream winds were modest, even as the afternoon wore on. The eddy lines and compression waves coming off some of the tighter bends were quite enough to keep me occupied. As shown above this continued through Sunday and Monday. While the major creeks on our route were all bridged, several crossings guaranteed wet feet.
On to the beginning of 8 miles of continuous snow at the edge of the Flattop plateau.
Sunday, riding to Packer’s Roost and then hiking over Flattop down to Goat Haunt was the queen stage of the whole long weekend. Look at a map of Glacier and the Flattop complex stands out as a big, moderate, green corridor through the mountains. In a park full of big views, I can’t think of many other places which do better.
We got lucky with the weather, dodging mordor clouds spouting thunder out from impenetrable darkness to the south and the north. The rain caught us eventually, but not before we had an hour plus of sun exactly where you’d want it.
Dropping north off Flattop, enjoying a window between hail storms.
When the rain did come it came hard fast and sharp, and we got soaked. I wasn’t too worried due to the brilliance of our plan, and the only reason Megan had let herself be talked into the trip in the first place: we carried neither camping gear nor dinner food, and were bunking and dining at the Sally Chalet that evening. We did go a bit high on the traverse over towards the Kootenai patrol cabin, adding a bunch of pointless distance when we got stuck above cliffs rather than below them. I lost patience with myself, but the clouds parted a bit for the traverse down into the Waterton Valley, we checked out a bear den (empty) right off the trail, and had a few snow fields to cross with our axes, all of which kept my mind occupied. The snowshoes we carried all trip were never needed, so solid was the snow.
Megan finds a very impressive squirrel midden.
The miles down in the valley predictably soaked us all over again with wet brush, and the final miles stretched into absurdity, but Sally greated us with warmth, dryness, and a feast of veggie chili, cornbread, salad, and multiple desserts. We even had use of a washer and dryer, the later especially useful for giving the DWR on my anorak a boost for the certain rain tomorrow. Though tired and a bit out of it, I could not have been happier.
Waterton Lake. Sally claims the apartments at Goat Haunt to be the best housing in the park. Hard to argue with that.
My camera was still rather wet the next morning, so I kept it tucked away through the drizzle which didn’t break until we passed the Bowman campground at dinner time. The 20+ miles of trail from Goat to the foot of Bowman remains one of my favorites anywhere. The first six miles is primarily through the trees, with enough hints of the vast surroundings to keep anticipation high and focus diffuse. Then, in the 1/2 mile from Frances to Hawksbill camps the valley turns a hair, a bare 100 feet of ascent gets you out of the trees, and the pass sits above Thunderbird pond like a rabbit hole, a remarkably low (6250 feet) and easy crossing of the rugged Livingston range.
Last year (see photos in above link) Thunderbird was full of avalanche and I was on crampons all the way up to the pass. This year the pond was clear but the trail was covered in a 70+ degree snow wall. A bear had recently made a bold traverse, but we didn’t fancy ending up in the drink on a chilly day. So we went straight up a steep dirt slope, crossed a few snow fields, and followed a bear trail through intermittent forest and one unavoidable alder thicket up to the pass. The rest of the hike, one burly thigh deep creek crossing excepted, was unremarkable save the usual tremendous scenery.
Bowman in the evening.
We finished at Megan’s car, in which we had wisely stashed a six pack and bag of Smartfood popcorn, exactly 36 hours after we had started the trip from Avalanche. They’re a leading candidate for the longest 36 of the year thus far, which is perhaps the best available sign of success.